Is the Sunday Times helping to set up Charles Farr as the fall guy for the Coalition government's failure to undo the massive damage to our freedoms and liberties which was done by Labour, with the help of this former MI6 officer, who is now the Director General of the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism at the Home Office ?
This article by David Leppard has several anonymous opinions from people who have worked with or against Charles Farr, almost none of which are complimentary.
Is he really the sole architect of Labour and the Coalition's counterproductive anti-terrorism and mass surveillance policies, or are there other guilty mandarins who should also be named and shamed ?
The Sunday Times
22nd April 2012
Profile Charles Farr
Chief snooper pops out of the shadows
The volatile former spy turned security mandarin is going public to defend his plan to monitor all our digital communication, writes David Leppard
When the embattled Theresa May appears before a committee of MPs on Tuesday to give evidence about her work as home secretary she will be accompanied by one of Whitehall's most powerful, controversial and secretive mandarins. Charles Farr, the Home Office's top "securocrat", is set to emerge from the shadows for the first time as he is asked to defend the coalition's plans to monitor the internet use and digital communications of everyone in Britain.
Do not pin too much hope in the Home Affairs Committee, they have been bamboozled by the Home Office and by the intelligence agencies many times before. Perhaps Dr. Julian Huppert (Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge) might get a few telling questions in, but he is unlikely to get any straight answers.
Farr is probably Whitehall's most important and influential spy, the man most closely associated with "Big Brother Britain". He was responsible for the so-called "snooping bill" that caused the government so many problems earlier this month. He personally oversaw the introduction of the coalition's rebranded regime of control orders to detain terror suspects without charge and he drove its ambitious attempts to curb the radicalisation of young Muslim men.
A bright and driven bureaucrat, he has shaken up Whitehall's security machine, impressing successive ministerial bosses with his vision since he was plucked from MI6 in 2007 by John Reid, the former Labour home secretary, to head the Home Office's security and counterterrorism office. Farr won plaudits for overhauling the government's handling of the war on terror.
Impressing John "not fit for purpose" Reid, (now a lobbyist for the G4S private security company) the former hard line Communist and drinking partner of the Bosnian Serb war criminal Radovan Karadžić, should not be seen as a positive character reference.
"He has made a major contribution to the government's counterterrorism efforts, principally because of his leadership," said Patrick Mercer, former chairman of the Commons subcommittee on counterterrorism. Yet talk to current and former colleagues, and they will tell you there is a flip side to the 52-year-old Farr. They portray him as a buccaneer whose intelligence past and explosive temper raise questions about his constitutional role as a civil servant -- and the robust style in which he does business.
Little is known of Farr's early life and career. He was educated at Monkton Combe, a private school near Bath, of which Slr Richard Dearlove, a former M6 chief and his future boss, is also an old boy. After leaving in 1977 Farr studied English at Magdalen College Oxford, alma mater of several spies including Sir John Scarlett, another former MI6 chief.
So he probably has little clue about the technology and business implications of his policies, which affect the internet, mobile phones, computer databases etc.
He joined MI6 some time in the 1980s, serving in South Africa and Jordan. Farr is understood to have come to prominence, as one contemporary recalled, "flying around Afghanistan in a helicopter with thousands of dollars in bundles, doing deals with farmers to not grow opium. Bad policy as it turned out, but he did it very well". So well, in fact, that he was appointed an OBE in 2003. He would go on to run MI6's counterterrorism department before Reid spotted him.
Farr's critics say he still carries the legacy of his MI6 heyday -- a mindset they claim is inappropriate for his job at the heart of Whitehall security policy. "When you are an MI6 officer out in the field, trying to stop people getting nuclear weapons in, say, Kazakhstan, you have to be very independently minded and very confident in your own judgment. There's not a lot of ministerial control or public accountability," says an admirer who knows him well. "Charles feels very uncomfortable in the world of domestic politics and doesn't read it very well."
That comment was from "an admirer" !
A former Home Office official went further: "When you're suddenly flung into a top position with management and policy responsibility in the Home Office, you can't go on behaving like you are in the Tora Bora caves doing deals with warlords. Your job is to advise ministers who decide policy. You can't go around thinking you are a player in your own right. It's a constitutional concern."
Farr's handling of the now infamous snooping bill seems to typify these contradictions. Ministers ran into a storm of criticism after The Sunday Times revealed they were planning to allow the intelligence agencies to monitor social media, Skype calls and email communications as well as logging every site visited by internet users in Britain. The plans were due to be announced in next month's Queen's speech, but were put on hold when they were leaked.
It is no secret in Whitehall that the grandiosely titled communications capabilities development programme was Farr's "policy baby". In fact, it was a rehash of an earlier attempt by Farr in 2009 to persuade the then Labour home secretary to build a giant database where the government could hold details of all emails and telephone calls. It obviously needed sensitive handling, but its delivery was bungled by Farr's office and it was dumped by Labour after an uproar. When a new government was elected he tried to resurrect the plan -- with similar results.
Why didn't the Coalition government sack this snoop happy Labour apparatchik when they took office ?
A similar lack of deftness befell Farr's efforts to develop "Prevent", a controversial plank of the government's counterterrorism policy that aimed to identify and thwart thousands of young Muslim men who might be vulnerable to violent extremism. A key strand of Prevent was the policy of dishing out tens of millions of pounds of public money to Muslim youth groups and charities. Basically Farr believed the government should engage with fundamentalist Muslim leaders because they were best placed to stop the radicalisation of the youths who were the most likely to become violent extremists. The problem with the policy was some of these groups were asked to "spot" potential extremists and report on teenagers who might be vulnerable to grooming.
Critics inside and outside the government soon saw it as turning the Home Office into a giant spying machine. "They were offering money to youth groups and Muslim charities contingent on them spying for the Home Office," said a prominent lawyer, who saw draft documents outlining the conditions of the grant agreements.
The scheme became characterised as a huge bid for surveillance. "It was a blurring of the policy ol surveillance with a different policy of community engagement and building a civil society" said a former Home Office official.
"But if like Charles Fair, you are a career spook you just don't get that. You see everything as an opportunity for surveillance and you see everybody as potentially sinsister."
Perhaps the general public will see Charles Farr as "sinister" and a threat to our freedoms and liberties, who has wormed his way into the heart of Whitehall.
Whatever his intentions, the practical effect of his failed polices, is to have acted as a recruiting sergeant for the next generation of extremists here in the UK and to make the Home Office / MI5 / MI6 / GCHQ and the rest of the Whitehall and Westminster political elites, increasingly hated by the public who should be supporting them.
In the end the policy was binned after a speech in Munich in February last year by David Cameron on Islamic extremism. The prime minister argued that any kind of Islamic extremism, whether violent or not, was unacceptable. It was seen by insiders as an explicit attack on Farr. Reports that Farr "went ballistic" when he read the speech are over-blown. But one insider said: "He was unhappy with the Munich speech. But obviously not unhappy enough to resign."
So if the Prime Minister / Number 10 SpAds are unhappy with Charles Farr, why is he still in a position of power and influence ?
Who are his political allies within the Byzantine corridors of power in Whitehall ?
Does Charles Farr have access to secret material which could be used to blackmail politicians with, like the notorious J. Edgar Hoover did in the USA ?
Although his single-mindedness is widely admired, Farr's volcanic temper has won him few friends in Whitehall. Dealing with warlords on the front line in Afghanistan requires different skills from managing sensitive egos in the supposedly collegiate environment of a government office.
Presumably the opium smuggling paedophile Afghan warlords are less duplicitous and more honourable than the civil service mandarins and politicians in Whitehall and Westminster.
In the often heated exchanges during the government's review of control orders in late 2010, a former official recalls one particularly fiery exchange between Farr and a civil liberties campaigner. "He was having one of his explosions, which seemed to last 45 minutes and was quite sinister. You just think: what on earth is going on? Is he all right? It was all very embarrassing and counterproductive."
Another former official, who had a showdown with Farr over policy, recalls: "He's almost messianic. He's like he's on a mission to protect the nation. When you disagree with him he gets very emotional. He's one of these guys who goes white and shakes when he loses his temper."
The cold fury that his policies have stirred up in many people who are at least as patriotic as he is, outside of Whitehall, more than match such alleged temper tantrums
Farr's relationship with MPs reflects the unique challenges of putting an MI6 hawk at the heart of the public policy machine. Farr feels uncomfortable when he is called to give evidence before Commons committees.
That is part of what all Whitehall mandarins get their titles, honours and big salaries to do.
On the few occasions when he has testified he has always insisted he is heard in secret. He has told Keith Vaz, chairman of the home affairs committee, that as a serving spy he can't give evidence in public.
Charles Farr is no longer a serving MI6 officer in the field, he is employed as a civil servant at the Home Office in Marsham Street.
"Charles likes being a secret squirrel," said another MP. "Keith asked him why he can't give evidence in public. Charles replied that there were no pictures of him any where on the internet. Nobody knew what he looked like, which is how he wanted it.
Why ? He is never going on an undercover mission again, is he ?
What makes him more special than the heads of the Intelligence Agencies who have been interviewed and photographed in public ? Nothing.
But Keith replied: 'Everybody knows what you look like: you look like an older version of Harry Potter'."
Unlike the star of JK Rowling's books no one inside Whitehall says Farr is Mr Popular. "He has on occasions adopted a style that could be considered inappropriate," said a former official. "He's a very uncivil servant."
That restrained euphemism sounds like an audition for the planned new series of Yes Minister
Additional reporting: Richard Kerbaj